In case you haven't received the memo, "sexting" (aka sending explicit material — like photos — over the Internet or mobile devices) is not a good idea. Society has gotten way out of hand with this technology thing. Sending nude photos of yourself is not new, but it has never been so easy to do. It's so easy to do, in fact, that many people (including adults), send nude photos of themselves to people they hardly know.
How do I define hardly know? Anyone who is not you -- because only you truly know what you are completely capable of at any given moment. Because you would never send nude photos of someone out into the universe does not mean that other folks would not do that to you.
Time and time again, life teaches us that people we love, respect and honor don't necessarily hold the same values or weigh certain matters, like sexting, in the same way. Don't get me wrong; I love texting. I like being able to let someone know that I'm running late or answer a question when I don't have time for a complete conversation. The convenience of text messaging and e-mail is wonderful; however, the convenience of texting does not supersede the inconvenience of having nude photos of you sent out to the world.
Sexting has taken a great idea and turned it bad -- specifically for those who may not know better (like teens) and those who will not do better (like spurned adults). The unwanted consequences of sexting in the wrong hands far outweigh the momentary high of pleasing yourself and your partner. Unlike adults who are supposed to have the mental wherewithal to handle bad situations (like nude photos showing up in the e-mail/mobile inbox of their boss, spouse or fellow church members), most young people do not have the maturity to handle such dastardly deeds.
Case in point: 18-year-old Jesse Logan committed suicide after a nude picture of her was sent to a bunch of "mean girls" by an ex-boyfriend. She was devastated and the girls bullied her, calling her a slut and whore. Depressed and humiliated, she hung herself. And a few weeks ago, in Mason, Ohio, two teenagers were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after nude photos of their classmates were allegedly found on a cell phone. The consequences of sexting are getting more and more severe.
I know that some of you are thinking that if teens are grown enough to send nude photos of themselves, then they should be grown enough to handle the fallout. That is logical thinking, but it's not applicable in this situation. I would argue that most teens have no clue about the weight of sending nude photos of themselves to others; just like they have no clue about why sex at a young age should be highly discouraged. They do not get it.
They have grown up in a society where communication occurs in a completely different way. While adults, particularly those 30 and over, are well aware of the far-reaching capabilities of the Web, (because we remember life before it existed) teens do not have that frame of reference. They are inundated with decontextualized messages about sex constantly. Yes, they should know that sending nude photos of themselves over the Web is not a smart thing to do, but they don't get it because they've been looking at T&A every single day of their lives.
Heck, sex tapes have helped to propel into stardom "nobodies" like Kim Kardashian and helped hangers-on like Ray J get their own TV shows. Even actors who are losing their relevance (Vivaca A. Fox) are doing this stupid stuff. Bonafide stars like Ne-Yo and Vanessa Hudgens are even popping up with nude photos on the Web. So, with accessibility, speed and social endorsements, i.e. "Everybody does it," many teens willingly participate in sexting.
I say go back to the basics. A.) Everyone who you think is your friend is not your friend. B.) Do not send anything over the Web that can cause you public humiliation, get you kicked out of school, cause you to lose a job, get you arrested or bring shame on our family name. C.) Do not send nude pictures of yourself or make sex tapes with anyone who is not a spouse. At least if it is a spouse, he or she will look like the creep that he or she is when posting nude photos of a spouse against his or her wishes. D.) Sexting is not a good idea -- period.
Although this issue impacts men and women, many young girls erroneously believe that expressing their sexuality in this way is a feminist act, when in fact having control over your sexuality is a feminist act. Placing nude photos of yourself in the hands of others is a decidedly non-feminist act. Teens are inundated with information, and just as they confuse ideological ways of thinking, they are confused about sexuality and expressing it.
It is up to adults to help make it clear for them. Teach your sons and daughters that it is the lowest of the low to send nude photos of someone else over the Web -- period. If they would not like it done to them, then they should not do it to others. Further, they should not participate because there are moral and legal consequences.
When it comes to sexting, don't do it. If you have anything to lose, which everyone does at various stages in life, it really is not worth it.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for RushmoreDrive.com.
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